Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Is Mission a Consequence of the Catholicity of the Church? an Orthodox Perspective (*)

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Is Mission a Consequence of the Catholicity of the Church? an Orthodox Perspective (*)

Article excerpt

ATHANASIOS N. PAPATHANASIOU (**)

Is our Lord Jesus Christ a liar?

Before hurrying to judge this question as a blasphemy, let us remember how Christ himself describes his second coming and the final judgement: "On that day many will say to him, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then he will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" (Matt: 7:22-23).

It is here that the above posed "blasphemous" question arises. How can Jesus claim that he never knew them? Is it possible that the omniscient God ignores the very existence of some creatures?

The answer lies in the understanding of the verb "to know" and the term "knowledge". What Christ means here is apparently not mere mental knowledge, the collection of information, but something much more than that: real knowledge is the personal relationship, the communion between persons. I really know someone insofar as I share my life with him/her in love, as Christ has asked us. (1)

What the human being is being called to by God is the participation in a community. When the disciples met Christ after his resurrection, they did not recognize him until he sat at the table with them and shared food with them (Luke 24:30-32). What makes me a Christian is not the individualistic acceptance of an ideology, but the participation in a meal, that is, in the eucharistic gathering of the church. Here we can recognize one another as concrete persons, experience the presence of God, manifest the faith and anticipate the final gathering in the eschata, the wedding supper of Christ and the church (Rev. 20:9, 21:2).

It is not by chance that the first who spoke about the catholicity of the church, spoke in connection with the eucharistic gathering and the construction of a local church. It was St Ignatius of Antioch, who, in his letter to the Smyrnaeans (ca 100 AD), wrote, "Where Christ is, there is the catholic Church". (2) As we can see, Ignatius uses-an adjective ("catholic"), not a noun ("catholicity"). The same happens in the creed: "I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church...". This is of special importance. Catholicity is not an abstract concept or an ideological formula, but the mode of life of a certain community, that is, the church, the body of Christ. (3)

The term "catholic" (hence "catholicity") derives from the Greek expression kath'holou, which denotes totality or integrity. Applied to the church, it has not got a mere geographical meaning. It certainly implies the worldwide expansion of Christianity, but primarily it signifies the inner wholeness and integrity of the church's life. (4) The term is used as the equivalent of "Orthodox" to mark the difference of the church from every other Christian group or denomination, which may hold parts of the truth but not the whole truth. The church is catholic, because she accepts and experiences the whole truth incarnate, Jesus Christ, and serves the transformation of the whole world (with no dichotomies between the so-called "spiritual" and "material" aspects of life) into the flesh of Jesus Christ. So, the church is catholic not only because she holds the truth, but also because she manifests and offers it to the whole of humankind.

These two elements of ecclesiastical life (the experience and the manifestation of the truth) are definitely inseparable. If the church does not proclaim her truth (that is, rebukes her missionary task), she loses catholicity. According to St Paul, the church is Christ's body, "the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way" (Eph. 1:23). It is a truly daring concept: If the church is the fulfilment, the completion of Christ, it means that Christ is incomplete without the church, his body, so much the same as the church is incomplete without Christ, her head! St John Chrysostom comments on St Paul's words and emphasizes that, since the body consists of all the parts, Christ needs every single member of his. …

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